|The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek|
Haloxite, starvation, and oxygen deprivation.
Each will kill a demon just as dead as the others.
Over the decades of fighting against my ex-boss Avarice, she had stabbed me, and I’d recovered.
She and her fallen angel Jack had trapped me until I nearly starved for life force, and I’d escaped.
With Avarice’s bola around my neck, I’d choke until nothing was left of me but smoke.
I pounded air with both wings and soared over the Florida Straits while I still had the strength. Half the Volunteer Guardian Angels with me and The Reaper were miles back, dismantling the nuclear warhead they’d just caught with their heavenly spells. The other half was plummeting to the water’s surface below, courtesy of Avarice’s conjured bolas. The four Septuplets flying in formation behind us each escorted another atom bomb toward unknown destinations. This Cuban Missile Crisis on Earth would get so hot it could wipe out humanity-and Hell’s and Heaven’s crop of souls-if even one bomb struck a city.
Good thing I was bleeding.
I slapped my left hand to the bola choking me and got blood on the rope. With a yank, the unguided Blood Magic tore it apart and the whole thing dropped away. Thin air rushed into my nose and I breathed it deep, then I swooped in a sideways U and reached The Reaper’s side. I knew Avarice was riding my ass the whole way, so I shouted at Reap, “Nukes first.”
He was already a step ahead of me. Ripping his hood off, The Reaper spun his scythe between bony hands and pelted toward the bomb rocketing along on our right. My current boss knew that if these bombs went off, he’d be out of a job harvesting souls once they ran out. He arced around Voracity and the bomb the Septuplet was escorting. Three demons unfurled their wings from their hiding spots on the back end of the warhead, but I didn’t have time to help Reap wax them. His nightmare of a visage and his Hellblessed scythe would have to be enough.
I dove for his discarded hood and snatched it in my left hand. Once I had the cloth gripped tight, Avarice smashed into me right between the shoulder blades. She blanketed me with both her wings and both arms. We fell like meteors toward the waters beneath the battle.
Anything Avarice managed to scream at me got lost in the wind rushing through my ears, hair, and jacket. My panicked reaction stirred her blood and she barked with laughter. Bitch probably thought I was terrified of another trap like this because she’d gotten me before. I reached back at a crooked angle, scratched my left hand against her wing scales on the inside, then fired up a surge of Blood Magic. The unguided spell cost me more blood than usual since I smeared her whole wing, but it was worth the dizziness.
She pirouetted away from me like a whirlygig in a tornado, completely unable to flap her left wing with the Blood Magic shoving against it. I seized the energy I had left before I got too lightheaded to fly. Looping downward, I shoved the blood-soaked hood I still carried onto her head and squeaked out a tiny unguided spell. The Blood Magic wrenched her head left and right, piling on the vertigo better than a spinning teacup roller coaster with a three drink minimum. A dozen weapons and implements appeared in her hands while she tumbled. Soliduction was a crazy-good power in a war zone as long as one had the capacity to use it. She didn’t now.
With Avarice out of the fight, I whirled in the air and flapped drunkenly for half a minute. The four bombs were below me, then above, then below again. Sunspots skidded across my vision until I caught my breath and the sky stopped spinning. The Reaper was cackling madly fifty feet above, where severed demon wings and bursts of smoke littered the cloudscape. Moments ago, the sky had been clear. They’d flown into a cloud bank while I was dizzy.
I pumped my wings and flopped sideways when the world lurched again. The cloud was the only skymark close enough to orient on. I focused on it and clung to the knowledge that forward was forward no matter where the ocean and sky were. After an hour-long minute, we left the cloud behind and the quadri-bombs were a hundred feet ahead of me. They’d gained sky while I reeled.
By the time the ground went down where it belonged, The Reaper was chasing Voracity away from the bomb on my right. A few dozen VGA angels caught up to us from the first warhead once Voracity had dipped. They circled the back end and worked their heavenly hoodoo. Bomb number two was safe, and no one among The Coalition bothered deserting their own can-o’-death to save that one. That told me Jack, Apathy, and Pride’s goal was to make sure at least one bomb annihilated its target.
Apathy watched the clash around the next bomb on the right from behind a wall of Coalition demons that appeared to hear his every word despite flying hard. Our naked demon friends from the Make-A-Sin Foundation didn’t have a scratch among them. They whittled Apathy’s guards down one by one with haloxite blades. Guess they weren’t great fighters. Apathy himself vamoosed sometime during the fighting, go figure.
Blue-head and Jackhole were duking it out in the airspace above bomb number three. Every time Blue-head flung his fistful of motes at Jack, the fallen angel would dodge and open fire with a rifle he’d summoned to his hand from the bomb’s underside. I made sure to stay in the sun as I flew closer. Jack had strapped maybe thirty rifles to the bomb’s belly, and though I couldn’t hear him shouting over the wind, I knew those were French words he bellowed. It looked to me like they were both using some kind of magicks from Heaven, but all I knew of Heaven I’d learned from Nia, and she wasn’t combative. With each rifle shot, Blue-head lost sky until Jack forced him to fly in a loop to avoid a haloxite round.
Jack summoned two rifles to him and gripped one in each hand. Blue-head cut his loop short to avoid the first shot, but the second went off at the same time and caught Blue-head in his right wing. That hole in his wing joint was enough to send him packing. He wobbled while he retreated and even dropped some of his motes as he fled.
I had maybe one more spell in me before I lost so much blood I passed out. Pride was as good a martial artist as I was, and Jack had some number of rifles left. He summoned another one, took aim, and opened fire at the VGA angels who were trying to catch the two bombs that The Reaper and the naked demons had freed up. The round he fired was brimstone.
It ripped through three or four angels. So did the next one, and the next. I seized the opening and pelted toward the fallen angel. Jack’s maniacal rage against his former brethren turned on me too late. I knocked away the next rifle he summoned with a forearm block and lowered my head. Both brimstone horns penetrated the protection from his haloxite noggin ring. One gouged a hole in Jack’s left cheek. The other scraped his halo and chipped a sliver out of the front.
He didn’t seem to notice anything at first; Jack countered the flying headbutt with an uppercut. That gave him enough sky to catch another rifle he summoned. Before he got the shot off, Reap blindsided him with a knee to the face. Jack screamed louder than the wind in our ears and flopped out of the fight with one hand clutching each cheekbone. I’d wounded the left side, and Reap had apparently crushed the bones beneath the right side with his ebon knee.
That wasn’t supposed to be possible; halos protected angels and their fallen opposites from pain and harm the same way a demon’s horns protected us.
I let Jack fall and focused on the bombs. The Reaper swerved and circled his scythe blade around the nearest warhead’s outer shell. Every remaining rifle of Jack’s fell apart in two pieces. With that, the only threats left were Pride and the bombs themselves. A hundred angels finished halting the third of five bombs and flocked toward Jack’s and Pride’s deadly escorts.
“Land coming up fast,” an angel belted out.
I squinted through the bright Atlantic sunlight and saw the gray-blue arc of islands dotting the ocean in the distance.
The Florida Keys.
If we were going to keep these last two bombs from detonating, we had less than two minutes to catch them.